Richard Coles: A typically Anglican compromise on women bishops

The Church is working out its way of life within horizons not of this world

Share
Related Topics

There was an ancient tradition that when someone was consecrated bishop they said, "Nolo episcopari", meaning, "I don't want to be a bishop". It is impossible to say how many episcopal careers thus began with a lie, and the tradition was wisely abandoned. The words might be heard again this week when the General Synod of the Church of England meets; they will be spoken, however, by women seeking to change the Church's rules that at which moment restrict episcopacy to men; and they will be spoken through gritted teeth because these women have been fighting for this change for decades.

How can a change so long awaited, so carefully debated, fall at the last fence? The Synod, an organisation with the clout of a Neighbourhood Watch Association tasked to transact the business of The Council of Nicea, was expected to endorse the decision of 42 of the 44 dioceses of the Church of England to go ahead with the change. It has been a long and difficult and thorough debate but we have – finally – got there. Except we haven't.

Opposition to the change has proved surprisingly durable and, indeed, creative since women priests appeared 20 years ago. As a result, the Church has worked very hard to find a form of agreement which would allow women bishops to be consecrated, yet make room within the Church – a sort of native reservation, if you like – for those who cannot accept them. So hard has it worked that, in spite of the decision of the dioceses, the bishops have proposed some amendments which have alienated everyone. Those who oppose change think they don't go far enough. Those who seek change think they so weaken the episcopal ministry of women we would be better off not bothering – hence the reprise of the Nolo episcopari.

While this is a spectacle most lookers-on must find unintelligible, the Church is only doing what it has always done, which is seek to work out its way of life within horizons and perspectives that are not of this world.

To say so is not to come down on one side or the other – I happen to be very much in favour of women bishops, and not only because it offers the tantalising possibility of a bishop one day being called †Belinda Carlisle – but to suggest that our decision-making will always seem peculiar.

It can be immensely frustrating and it can produce lopsided outcomes. But it also offers at the very least the hope of a compromise between two irreconcilable positions without everyone setting fire to themselves or each other.

Richard Coles is a broadcaster and a Church of England parish priest

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Senior Data Scientist (Data Mining, RSPSS, R, AI, CPLEX, SQL)

£60000 - £70000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Senior Data Sc...

Law Costs

Highly Attractive Salary: Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL - This is a very unusual law c...

Junior VB.NET Application Developer (ASP.NET, SQL, Graduate)

£28000 - £30000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Junior VB.NET ...

C# .NET Web Developer (ASP.NET, JavaScript, jQuery, XML, XLST)

£40000 - £50000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# .NET Web De...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Mary Beard has helped her troll get a job - and a new start in life  

Mary Beard's troll-taming is a lesson for us all

Katy Guest
Ukip leader Farage with former Tory MP Carswell, who has defected to his party  

Could Douglas Carswell be a Trotskyite in disguise?

John Rentoul
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

Europe's biggest steampunk convention

Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor
She's dark, sarcastic, and bashes life in Nowheresville ... so how did Kacey Musgraves become country music's hottest new star?

Kacey Musgraves: Nashville's hottest new star

The singer has two Grammys for her first album under her belt and her celebrity fans include Willie Nelson, Ryan Adams and Katy Perry
American soldier-poet Brian Turner reveals the enduring turmoil that inspired his memoir

Soldier-poet Brian Turner on his new memoir

James Kidd meets the prize-winning writer, whose new memoir takes him back to the bloody battles he fought in Iraq
Aston Villa vs Hull match preview: Villa were not surprised that Ron Vlaar was a World Cup star

Villa were not surprised that Vlaar was a World Cup star

Andi Weimann reveals just how good his Dutch teammate really is
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef ekes out his holiday in Italy with divine, simple salads

Bill Granger's simple Italian salads

Our chef presents his own version of Italian dishes, taking in the flavours and produce that inspired him while he was in the country
The Last Word: Tumbleweed through deserted stands and suites at Wembley

The Last Word: Tumbleweed through deserted stands and suites at Wembley

If supporters begin to close bank accounts, switch broadband suppliers or shun satellite sales, their voices will be heard. It’s time for revolution